faces legal troubles

August 18, 2008 | 13:14

Tags: #copyright #digital-distribution #magazines #mpaa

Companies: #mygazinescom #riaa

We've seen what happens when you launch a music-sharing service without the permission of copyright holders, and similarly for movies. With this climate in mind, would you launch a user-driven magazine sharing service?

That's exactly what one company has done with the website – a Flash-driven collection of popular magazines scanned and submitted by its users. All the big names are available – everything from FHM and GQ to Harvard Business Review and Tactical Weapons Magazine. The interface is pretty swish, too: providing you've got a Flash-enabled browser, each magazine is presented in a two-page spread just like the real thing – complete with page-turning animations. Bookmarks are available to jump straight to the articles that interest you, and considering that the magazines are provided by volunteers the quality is pretty darn good – at least as readable as any official eMagazine service I've used.

The catch? According to CNet's Stephanie Condon, the copyright holders for the magazines featured are less than impressed – and are actively seeking to have the site shut down. Ordinarily, getting such a site canned wouldn't be a problem – but there's a fly in the ointment:, obviously aware that it might meet with such hostility, is hosted by the free-and-easy PRQ hosting service in Sweden created by the founders of the infamous Pirate Bay.

Although the reaction of the publishing houses involved is understandable – it's never fun seeing your hard work being distributed without recompense – I truly believe that, given a little tender loving care, we could be looking at the future of magazine distribution. Although magazines are sold in stores in the same way as other copyright materials such as films and music, they have a unique feature: the selling price never covers the printing and distribution costs, much less the salaries of those involved in its production. Instead, the cover price exists almost exclusively to give a sense of value to the product – the running costs are recouped from advertising.

It's this fact – something almost unique to magazines and newspapers – that may yet save the adverts are reproduced exactly as they appeared in the original printed version. Instead of offering their advertisers an audience of 30,000 who actually put their hands in their pockets and buy the magazine from their local newsagents, the publishers can now offer circulation figures in the hundreds of thousands – and growing. The best part is, it's at no cost to themselves. If circulation figures can be obtained from in such a way as to be verified and added to the figures for the printed versions, it could be the Renaissance that the printed media industry has been waiting for. After all, scanning through a magazine on my PC while I'm waiting for a program to compile is nice, but I'll always be buying the real thing for reading in other locations.

Whether and the publishing industry will ever come to an agreement based on the above theory remains to be seen – and given the past performance of the music and film industries, I'm not exactly hopeful.

What's your take: should the publishers be happy at the boost in readership – and eyeballs on adverts – offered at no cost to themselves, or is clearly guilty of intellectual property misappropriation? Share your thoughts over in the forums.
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